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She-Hulk reminds us that Bruce Banner and Tony Stark were friends, actually

Science Bros, 10 years later

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bruce banner and tony stark going over science things in the first avengers Image: Disney/Marvel Studios
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Among the many big revelations in the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law comes the reveal that while Bruce Banner was chilling in Mexico post-Blip in order to find himself and unite his two warring halves, he and Tony Stark built an outdoor bar together. To commemorate that time together, their initials are carved into the wood. It’s a small detail in a larger conversation, but it’s a little nod to a friendship that was once a huge part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom — and got a bit lost along the way.

Once upon a time, MCU fans dreamed of a world where the Avengers hung out and liked each other. Novel, right? But back in 2012, right on the heels of the first Avengers movie, the idea of all of Earth’s mightiest heroes coming together and living in a tower like chill roommates was incredibly popular. The gang played video games together. Clint lived in the vents, for some reason. Thor was obsessed with Pop-Tarts. It was a simpler time.

avengers shawarma Image: Marvel Studios

One of the big hallmarks of this era was “Science Bros” — what fans called the relationship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Sometimes this was romantic (though that would usually be dubbed “Science Boyfriends” or “Science Husbands”). But sometimes, it was just the platonic relationship between the two smartest Avengers as they geeked out over tech or bantered over science experiments. The friendship kicked off in the first Avengers movie, when the two bonded over the more technical aspects of foiling Loki’s villainous plan — and solidified when Tony didn’t tiptoe around Bruce, who still couldn’t control his Hulk side at that point. It was one of the clearest friendships in this early Avengers era (besides Clint and Natasha, my beloveds <3), and the entire framing of Iron Man 3 ended up being Tony recounting a story to Bruce. It was so iconic that even Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo acknowledged it and played along.

Unfortunately, the later MCU movies sidelined this fan-favorite relationship. Not necessarily because the two characters weren’t friends anymore, but because the MCU turned into a juggernaut of a million moving parts and characters that needed to be strategically placed like chess pieces in order to kick off the next plot point. Which was all fine and good for those excited for the newest big bad villain on the horizon. But for fans who enjoyed the unexpected friendships between these unlikely heroes — who wanted a full scene of the post-Battle of New York shawarma lunch — the MCU started to feel lacking. The heroes barely got along, and even when movies focused on the more emotional parts of being a superhero, the next one would come along and completely undermine what had happened.

bruce looking at tony through glass, tony’s reflection like a ghost Image: Marvel Studios

Clint randomly got a family in the second Avengers movie, and Natasha had a completely out-of-the-blue crush on Bruce (at least She-Hulk acknowledged how weird this bit was). Tony Stark gave up the suit after Iron Man 3, and then immediately picked it up again for a few more movies. And perhaps most frustratingly, after spending all of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in search of his best friend Bucky Barnes and then going against international law, Steve Rogers decided to travel back in time and live out an entire life without Bucky, despite consciously knowing that while he raised a family with Peggy in this timeline, Bucky was being tortured by Soviet agents. Fans realized that the MCU was never going to be about that group of friends being there for each other.

In a post-Endgame MCU, future Science Bros bonding can’t happen because Tony Stark is dead. But this small acknowledgement is something, a little reminder that once upon a time, the Avengers got along and actually liked each other on screen. And apparently they still did get along and like each other, but in the background and off screen, told to us years after some of them died. Maybe with more space for breathing room on Disney Plus, we’ll finally get to see more of this emotional connection that fans latched onto in the first place. Or maybe those moments will continue to be referenced after the fact, in carved initials on a wooden bar and a shared memory of a happier time.